It’s a source of great pride that many of the books we produce have been created for, and are treasured by, kids. So, we’ve been closely following news of Marcus Rashford MBE’s latest campaign. Fresh from his success lobbying for free school meals for the disadvantaged, he’s now championing the benefits of reading for children.
Diversity and representation
Though Rashford readily admits he came to books late himself – in part because his family couldn’t afford them - he’s articulate, passionate and ready to use his footballing fame to share the message that “reading is cool”. This at a time when only 26% of young people are reading every day, a 15-year low.
He’s launched a book club to distribute books to those that are underprivileged, and plans to co-author a number of titles himself in 2021, but recognises that promoting literacy is difficult unless,
“people of all race, religion and gender are depicted correctly and representative of modern society.”
That’s a cause close to our own hearts and one we’ve been monitoring for the last 18 months. - The opportunity for racial diversity in publishing.
The pace of change
Things are changing, albeit slowly.
Children’s reading charity BookTrust has noted a small increase - 6% in 2017 to 9% in 2019 - in the number of UK authors and illustrators who are people of colour.
The Guardian’s latest “Children’s books roundup” shows that, of the 12 listed a considerable percentage of the authors, story heroes and character illustrations come from diverse ethnic communities.
But all of that is cold comfort when children's books are still eight times as likely to feature animal main characters as they do BAME people.
Steering a different course
A simple Google search of “traditional publishing” is enough to deter any but the most determined first-time author. A complex process with a number of touchpoints and potential hurdles, like a large ship it naturally struggles to change course swiftly.
In our non-traditional world of self-publishing the direction of travel comes from the author but, more significantly, the consumer, rather than from the publishing house. Because the central characters of these personalised kids’ books are real.
With names “from Aaron to Zebadiah”, they live in a variety of family structures, some with same sex parents or in multi-generation households. Other story heroes are from blended families or may have disabilities or special needs. The finished book is unique and representative of the society in which we live because, well, that’s exactly who has created it.
That’s nothing to do with political correctness, just “art imitating life” and supply meeting demand.